Muharram marks the Islamic New Year for both Muslim communities, Sunnis and Shias. It is the first month in the lunar Islamic calendar and is one of the four most sacred months of the calendar where fighting is prohibited. The first ten days of the month mark the deadly battle of Karbala, where Hazrat Imam Husain, along with his family and supporters, was brutally massacred and beheaded by Yazid’s army. These ten days hold great historical significance for Muslims across the world. While the Shia Muslims commemorate this occasion by mourning, Sunni Muslims observe it on a more peaceful note. Browse through the following lines to know the rituals of Muharram and how it is celebrated by both the Muslim communities worldwide.
How Is Muharram Celebrated
The Shia Muslims consider Muharram to be the period of mourning and remembering martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Husain. They start mourning from the 1st night of Muharram and continue for the next 2 months and 8 days. Nonetheless, the first ten days of Muharram have more significance. Shia Muslims put on black dresses on the first day of Muharram and attend majlis (assemblies) where the orators narrate incidents of the battle of Karbala, Hazrat Imam Husain and his people. The black color is regarded as the color of mourning. They even keep themselves away from music and joyous events, such as weddings, that are likely to distract them from the sorrowful remembrance of the event.
On the 10th day, Shia Muslims take out large processions through the streets carrying banners and colorfully decorated taziyahs (bamboo and paper replicas of the martyrs) embellished with gilt and mica. They even carry colorful replicas of the mausoleum of Hazrat Imam Husain at Karbala. Shia Muslims walk barefoot on the roads, while the drums are beaten in the background. They chant and weep loudly as an act of mourning for Husain, his family and his followers. To express their grief on the death of Hazrat Imam Husain, they beat their chest with hands, known as matam. Others flagellate their bodies with chains or whips, consisting of small knives and sharp objects, thereby drawing out blood. Wrestlers and dancers even enact scenes that depict the battle of Karbala.
While Shia Muslims consider Muharram as a sorrowful occasion, Sunni Muslims observe the occasion as a festival even though the main aspect behind the festival remains intact. They observe fasts and commemorate the occasion as a low affair. As stated by Prophet Muhammad, the best fasts after the fasts of Ramadan are those of the month of Muharram. Though these fasts are not obligatory as those of Ramadan, one who fasts during Muharram out of his own will be awarded by Allah. These fasts are considered to be the most rewardable ones among the Nafl or voluntary fasts. The fasts can be observed for the first ten days of Muharram or on the 9th and 10th day of Muharram or on the 10th and 11th day of Muharram. The choice of fasting totally depends on an individual.